Our Three Favourite Watches From Bell & Ross’ 2021 Launches
I remember the first time I saw a watch with a fully luminous dial. It was the eccentrically styled and prosaically named New Retro, launched at Baselworld in 2015 by the extravagant jeweller De Grisogono. De Gris, as it was often abbreviated by the band of scribblers that is the luxury-watch press corps, was notable for the “smoking lounge” within its dark and glittering exhibition stand. It was not the place you expected to find evidence of brave new ideas in men’s watch design. But there it was, a wide, rectangular, gold-cased watch with a yellowish-green dial that glowed vividly under UV light.
Six years on and both Baselworld and De Grisogono are no more (the former has effectively been replaced by Watches and Wonders, and the latter filed for bankruptcy in 2020, embroiled in the “Luanda Leaks” Angolan diamond scandal). However, the idea of a fully lumed watch dial has endured – and I’m pretty sure the Swiss will still let you smoke indoors, too. In the intervening years, a few brands have picked up the baton and experimented with the use of luminous material – MB&F, for one – but most recently it has become a standout feature of Bell & Ross’ collections.
Launched this year, to join the existing BR 03-92 Diver Full Lum and BR 03-92 Full Lum is the BR V2-94 Full Lum (fundamental to Bell & Ross’ deployment of extreme amounts of SuperLumiNova is the loss of the final “e” from the word “lume”; see also Horolum and Grey Lum). This is the first piece in the brand’s Vintage lineup – ie, its round-cased range – to receive the “full lum” treatment.
It’s an approach that feels distinctly different in this execution; the brand’s square-cased watches have always had a contemporary, sometimes downright futuristic feel to them, and a fully glowing dial, funny as it is to say, fits right in. After all, this is a brand that’s done plenty of oddball things in the BR 01 and BR 03 collections before, (google “Bell & Ross Red Radar” if you’re not sure). But in a fairly traditional 41mm stainless-steel chronograph, with a vaguely retro-looking slimline bezel and distinctly throwback “tropic” rubber strap, the juxtaposition is much more pronounced.
BR V2-94 Full Lum
Perhaps it’s notable, then, that Bell & Ross has also chosen this moment to push the idea even further. In a nod to the fact that the legibility requirements of a chronograph aren’t the same as those of a dive watch, the nine o’clock subdial – which shows the elapsed minutes, up to 30 – appears the same colour as the rest of the dial in daylight, but when the whole thing lights up after dark you realise it’s picked out in blue, to contrast with the green of the rest of the dial, hands and numerals.
BR 03-92 Diver Red Bronze
My other highlights from Bell & Ross’s 2021 releases are both taken from the brand’s BR 03-92 Diver collection, but couldn’t be more different if they tried. This is a follow-up, if you like, to last year’s blue and bronze number, which felt like wearing a naval dress uniform: having switched blue for red (both on the dial and the ceramic bezel) this inevitably feels more landlocked. That impression isn’t dispelled by the calf-leather strap, but as with so many dive watches, often the appeal lies more in their general levels of robust weatherproofness.
BR 03-92 Diver Military
Where the red bronze is a rich example of how opulent you can be with a dive watch, the Diver Military is, as the name would imply, a whole different ball game. With a matte black ceramic case, an olive drab dial and a choice of matching khaki fabric or black rubber straps, this watch could almost be standard-issue gear. Only the slightly creamy off-white shade chosen for the hour markers and hands gives the game away; instead of super high-contrast white, Bell & Ross has opted for something a little more stylish.